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Once upon a time: a story of socialism
by Ira Hansen
Nov 15, 2008 | 561 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Once upon a time there was a very conscientious high school principal, who, when reviewing his school, was deeply troubled by the obvious inequalities. A select minority of students were consistently A students, the honor roll members, the salutatorians and valedictorians, the top performers.

But the majority were B and C students, and even worse, his ethnic students tended to consistently get Ds and Fs. And the competition caused envy, jealousy and even low self esteem. Many come from troubled backgrounds.

How could he create a more cooperative, less dog-eat-dog environment? How could he give everyone greater dignity? How could he make a more harmonious, more content student body?

Pondering on the whole lack of equality in grades, and seeking greater academic prosperity for all, he had a brainstorm. Having “graded on a curve” occasionally when he was a teacher, which caused a lot of happiness for his students, why not do the same for everyone by pooling everyone’s grades together?

The basic fairness of the concept was brilliant. This would eliminate the almost greed-like behavior of the A students, who always got the bulk of the best scholarships and were openly recognized for it. Clearly, there was a lack of basic human dignity in not treating all with complete equality.

Not only that, but his plan would create a much greater sense of interdependence — the school would “come together,” be more humane, less selfish. The welfare of the whole school would rise, animosity and envy decline and social justice replace the unequal distribution currently creating distinct and separate classes of students.

But, he felt such a decision should not be exclusively his. Doing it democratically, one man, one vote, was only fair. He decided to put it to a vote of the whole student body.

The top performers, when first hearing the idea, thought it absurd. Why should they work hard and study and do homework, only to have the goof-offs and the lazy kids get the same grade? Besides, the field was level — everyone had the same basic access to the same classes and teachers; the real difference was based on how each individual performed. Taking from them after they worked long and hard seemed patently unfair.

The B and C students were more ambivalent; taking from the A students would probably boost their grades a bit. “If I could get a better grade without any additional effort, heck, why not?”

The D and F students were delighted.

Finally, they could get report cards they would not be embarrassed to take home. They were 100-percent supportive and campaigned hard to ensure victory at the school election.

The question of basic fairness, of taking from the top producers, was reframed as a slogan: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” The A students who objected were ridiculed by the majority for being selfish and greedy. “With all the advantages you have you should gratefully help others.” The A students pointed out they did volunteer by tutoring others, but that was downplayed as mere tokenism.

The election was completely fair, with every student voting. Pooling of everyone’s grades won overwhelmingly, and the principal was delighted. A new philosophy of greater cooperation and less competition would harmonize his school. A more humane, more socially just school was clearly the future.

But something strange happened. Greater academic prosperity did not occur. In fact, his test scores plummeted over the next few years. D and F students from other schools transferred in, welcomed at first, but soon were seen as a draining burden. A students, those who did not leave, began doing the minimum; B and C students also worked less, while the D and F students did what they always did.

The school was soon on probation. The well-intentioned, socially fair principal saw his utopia crumble. To his horror, the school board and concerned parents soon demanded something be done.

“Every man for himself” was reinstated. Academic prosperity returned with time. And the well-intentioned socialist principal just couldn’t understand why.

Ira Hansen is a lifelong resident of Sparks and owner of Ira Hansen and Sons Plumbing.
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